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Hillary On Olbermann--first Impressions

When I heard Hillary Clinton was going on Keith Olbermann, I figured she was in for pretty rough--and possibly unfair--treatment. Olbermann, after all, has been a pretty vocal Clinton critic. And on a few occasions, I've thought, he's taken it too far.

Not tonight. His first question was...a very serious question about policy: What can the president really do to bring down gas prices? Clinton seemed slow to respond. (Maybe she was as surprised by the question as I was?) But she followed up with a long, nuanced answer. She started by offering a few short-term fixes: investigating possible market manipulation, tapping the strategic petroleum reserve, and taxing the oil companies and using it to finance a consumer tax holiday (something I hadn't heard before). She then acknowledged the limits of this strategy and said the real answer was encouraging energy independence over the long term.

Question number two was also about policy--asking Clinton to specify what she meant in last week's debate when she called for "massive retaliation" against Iran in case of an attack on Israel. She explained that she wanted to extend the concept of deterrence, as practiced during the Cold War, to the Middle East. (Over at Politico, Ben Smith notes she'd been leading up to this for the last few days. I'll leave it to my colleagues who follow foreign policy more colsely than I do to explain the significance of this.)

From there, Olbermann turned his attention to politics. But he raised legitimate issues, about the propriety of Clinton's tactics and whether she really had the party's interests at heart: Was her new ad, which features Osama Bin Laden, the equivalent of waving a bloody flag? Hadn't Clinton done her party a disservice by saying John McCain passed the commander-in-chief threshhold but Barack Obama didn't? And wasn't it wrong to seek the endorsement of Richard Mellon Scaife, who was responsible for so much of the dirt thrown at the Clintons--and Democrats--during the 1990s?  

Note that Olbermann hardly took it easy on Clinton: He put tough questions to her. But he also stuck to relevant questions that actually shed light on the kind of president Clinton would make. 

Perhaps Olbermann, reacting to last week's debate debacle, was trying to make a point about how journalists should interview candidates. If so, I think he succeeded.

(And, for what it's worth, I thought Clinton came off pretty well, too.) 

--Jonathan Cohn